JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House, in a first phone call between the two leaders since Trump took office.
“President Trump has extended an official invitation to President Abbas to visit the White House soon to discuss ways to resume the political process, stressing his commitment to a peace process that will lead to a real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer in Washington later confirmed Trump had invited Abbas to a meeting at the White House very soon.
Palestinians are concerned at the more favourable approach shown by Washington towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Trump came to power.
Netanyahu and Trump have spoken on the phone at least twice since the Jan. 20 inauguration, and Netanyahu visited Washington last month.
Palestinian officials indicated Abbas would emphasise his concern about Israeli settlement-building on occupied land and the need for a two-state solution to the conflict.
“President Abbas stressed the commitment to peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian State alongside the state of Israel,” Abu Rdainah said, according to the official Palestinian WAFA news agency.
Trump told Abbas that a peace deal must be negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinians and that the United States would work closely with both sides toward that goal, the White House said in a statement.
At a Feb. 15 news conference during Netanyahu’s visit, Trump was ambivalent about a two-state solution, the mainstay of U.S. policy in the region for the past two decades.
“I‘m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like ... I can live with either one,” Trump said, causing consternation across the Arab world and in many European capitals.
The White House has since been more cautious on the issue, and there has been less talk of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise Trump made during the campaign but a move that would provoke anger across the Muslim world.
David Friedman, Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, who was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, has said he wants to see the embassy move to Jerusalem and expects to work from the city at least some of the time.
While one of the first calls to a foreign leader made by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama was to Abbas, Trump has been cautious in his contacts with the Arab world.
He has spoken to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and met Jordan’s King Abdullah, who took the initiative and flew to Washington for an impromptu visit.
One of the most heated issues between Israel and the Palestinians is Israel’s building of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Palestinians want for their own state along with Gaza.
During the campaign, Trump said he did not necessarily see settlements as an obstacle to peace. Since his inauguration, Israel has announced plans to build at least 6,000 more settler homes, a substantial increase and an indication that Israel took Trump’s softer language as a green light.
But during Netanyahu’s visit, Trump said he wanted the Israeli prime minister to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” a position that took Netanyahu by surprise. Israeli and U.S. officials are now discussing what the parameters are on settlements.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, and David Alexander and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Andrew Roche and Leslie Adler